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(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

Opinion | A seditious town?

The Indian Penal Code’s Section 124A, which provides for punishments that could include life in prison, is a colonial relic

At least 10,000 people in Jharkhand’s Khunti town, constituting 2% of the district’s population, are facing sedition charges. The Indian Penal Code’s Section 124A, which provides for punishments that could include life in prison, is a colonial relic that was originally designed to crush disaffection against the Raj, but the nature of power is such that this anti-sedition law still gets dusted every now and then to stamp out dissent.

So, what are the 10,000 accused of? A report suggests that they are mostly tribals accused of leading or being part of a movement to assert their Constitutional rights. The Pathalgadi Movement (“laying stones’, literally), under which tribals put up stone monoliths with engravings from the Constitution, is an agitation against the alleged discrimination that Adivasis face, and seeks to reassert their control over the water, forest and land resources that they have used since time immemorial. It took off after the Jharkhand government amended colonial-era laws that tribals believe diluted their rights to forest land. This, they claim, allows non-tribals to encroach upon what has traditionally been their territory.

The state of Jharkhand was created after a long-drawn political movement by tribals for a separate state where they could preserve their identity and way of life. Any move to dispossess them of their customary rights was bound to provoke resistance. In that context, it remains highly unclear why they should be charged with one of the statute’s harshest provisions. Opposing a legal amendment is not the equivalent of trying to overthrow the state.

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